Useful tools for personal organization

Technically, you could do everything I’ve explained here in a simple text document or even on paper, but there are some helpful tools that will make it much, much easier and more fun. I will list useful tools for each level of personal organization I outlined.

1. Priorities

This is the least technically complicated one and also the most important one because it guides all the rest. I literally have a note in Google Keep (pinned to the top) called “Priorities” which lists my priorities from #1 to #20 in my case.

Tools to use for this are Google Keep, Google Docs, Microsoft Word, or any other text processing software you may like to use. Or even pen and paper 🙂

Some people also use Mind Maps, but I never got into that myself.

2. Goals

For each priority, you should have a list of goals. I find it convenient to use Trello for this kind of thing. I have a board called “Goals,” and I make a list for each priority (e.g., PhD Project Goals). There I include a card for each goal. Conveniently, I can then add a description for each goal (i.e., card), and include a checklist of projects or tasks that belong to that goal. I can also include deadlines and labels for easy processing.

3. Projects

For each goal, there are one or more projects. A project consists of multiple tasks, so it’s useful to list those somewhere. I use Trello extensively for work projects and for home projects. Each project is a list, and I add cards for each task. Sometimes a task has sub-tasks, and I add those as a checklist on the card. I can check those off as I go along. When I complete a task, I mark the date on which I’ve completed it. In this way, it becomes green, and I know I’ve completed it. If something needs to be completed by a certain date, I give it a due date, and then Trello reminds me that the card is due soon. I personally use labels according to topics, but you could also use them to mark urgency (I do this for home-related tasks). Whatever works for you 🙂

Trello is a very useful project management tool. I’ve heard of other ones such as Microsoft Project but haven’t used them myself.

4. Lists

Sometimes you may want a simple but functional list tool, and I use Wunderlist for that. I use it very much for things like groceries lists or shopping lists. It’s very convenient that you can share lists with others. Many of the lists are shared with my boyfriend, so if I want him to buy, say, broccoli, I don’t have to message him and ask him to add it to his list. Instead, I can directly add it to our groceries list, and he will see it immediately or whenever he goes to the store to buy food. We have most of the items on our groceries list as recurring items, so we don’t have to add them every week.

We also have shopping lists for specific shops. For instance, I might want face cream from the cosmetics store I like, but I only go there once in a while. So I put it on that list, and if I go to that store a few weeks later to buy body lotion, I can just open up that list and remember that I also wanted to buy face cream.

You can also choose to add a reminder to an item on your list. For instance, we have a reminder every Tuesday evening to take out the trash.

Another useful feature is that you can group your lists within folders. All of our shopping lists are in the folder “Shopping”. That makes your lists look a bit more organized 🙂

Finally, the Today and Week feature is also quite useful. You can look at what items are due Today from all lists and also what items are due in the next week from all your lists. Quite nice.

There are many list tools out there, and Wunderlist is just one of them. I used to use Google Tasks, but that’s a bit primitive in terms of functionality, so I moved on to Wunderlist.

5. Calendar

Ah, my calendar! How I love it! It really is a work of art. I put appointments on there, obviously, but I also put blocks of time that I like to reserve for something like my morning routine. I won’t go into details on the usage of a calendar because many of us use that. I love recurring events because it’s easy to enter things like going to the gym or recurring meetings. I also value it because it allows me to block off time such as my “Wind Down” time. If I don’t explicitly block that off, I end up doing stuff the entire evening and don’t make time to just do something pleasant and relaxing. The calendar, if it is accurate, contains both the exciting and the drudgerous aspects of our lives. What a perfect representation of life!

I once again want to highlight the benefit of sharing calendars. At work, this makes it very easy to schedule meetings. In my personal life, having a shared calendar with my boyfriend eliminated the need for constant back-and-forth about “Are you free on this date and time to go there? To meet with these people? To go to the gym?” It saves so much time!

There are many calendar tools, and I personally use Google Calendar, but I suppose other tools are just as effective. Some people still use paper agendas, which I admire 🙂 I can imagine how pleasant it would be to have this baby in a beautiful notebook and on paper. But then wouldn’t it be a pain to add recurring events? And how ugly would it look when you have to cross things out and write over them? In my opinion, the digital calendar makes it so much easier to be flexible and to adapt to life as it happens. (Says me, the queen of flexibility… hahaha.)

6. Daily flow tool

Daily flow refers to how you do your work during the day. I start out with a list of things to do this week, then a list of things to do today, then a list of things I’m doing now (only one at a time!), then a list of things I’ve done today, and a list of things I’ve done this week. It looks like this:

At the beginning of the week the first column is the longest, and at the end of the week the last column is the longest (hopefully). At the end of the week, I archive the last list (Done this week). I can review it later if I wish, and it won’t crowd my daily flow for the next week.

I can’t emphasize how useful this is on a daily basis! At the start of the day, I know exactly what I need to do today and what I need to work on next. At the end of the day, I know what I’ve completed today, and I’m also ready for the next day. Tasks from different projects get included here, so I won’t forget about any one project. It’s fantastic!

I use Trello for this because I can conveniently copy cards from my project management board (see #3 above) to my daily flow board. Kanban Flow does something similar.

7. Pomodoro technique

Finally, I use the Pomodoro technique (or a modified version of it) when I’m working. This means that when I start working on a certain task, I set a timer for 25 minutes. Once it goes off, I take a break for 5 minutes. Then I work for another 25 minutes. Then I take a break again. I do this until I complete 4 25-minute work sessions, and then I take a 15 minute (or longer) break. This is extremely useful for keeping up concentration while working on difficult, attention-demanding tasks such as writing or learning a language.

If I’m doing a less demanding task, I may prolong these periods to 45 or 50 minutes with a 10 minute break afterwards. It depends on what I find best for the type of work. If the 25-minute work periods feel too short and like they’re breaking my concentration, I will prolong them to 45 or 50 minutes. But I don’t go any longer than that: After almost an hour of focused work and sitting, I need to get up, move around, and think about something else. If I try to keep going, I just get exhausted early, which in the end is counter-productive and unpleasant.

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